TIP 2018: what’s in it for Facebook?

At the Telecom Infra Project Summit 2018 we spoke to the Facebook execs behind the initiative to find out why they decided to get involved.

When Facebook first started talking about getting involved in in the telecoms industry via TIP and even developing novel wireless technologies such as Terragraph, it felt like a frustrated OTT going through the motions to light a fire under the sector. Facebook’s vested interest was clear: the better and more ubiquitous the connectivity, the more people will use Facebook.

As we explained earlier, a big part of this involves efforts to make telecoms infrastructure cheaper to buy, roll-out and maintain. In that respect TIP is a direct threat to the traditional big kit vendors, not only because tower networking costs probably equate to lower profits for them, but a major aim of TIP is to expand the whole telecoms ecosystem, thus creating additional competition for them.

In a couple of small media gatherings at the event we spoke to Jay Parikh, Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, and VP of connectivity Yael Maguire. Parikh explained that TIP is not just a product of Facebook’s own connectivity needs but also of conversations he was having with operators two or three years ago in which they implored Facebook to get involved.

The biggest mutual problem faced by Facebook and the operator community is the exponential growth in traffic over networks combined with the increasing difficulty and cost of providing it. “We were worried that innovation was slowing down,” said Parikh, in reference to the collective concern felt at the time, one which the big kit vendors were failing to sufficiently address.

In response to persistent questioning about the return Facebook expects to get on its significant (but unspecified) investment, Parikh insisted that this isn’t a short term thing for his company. The strategic objective is to catalyse the telecoms industry and ROI will be gauged by the presence of novel connectivity innovation, as opposed to direct financial considerations.

It’s easy to be sceptical any time a company claims to be doing something for the greater good, but equally this would be a strange area for Facebook to diversify into if it was only looking for a new profit centre. Having said that the world’s dominant etailer now makes much of its profit from its cloud business so you never know.

Parikh kept his cards pretty close to his chest regarding any TIP financial metrics but it’s relatively easy to believe that a cash-rich Silicon Valley company might be prepared to spend money a bit more speculatively than a traditional outfit. Facebook considered its own fortunes to be intrinsically allied to those of the global telecoms industry, so helping it innovate is viewed as sufficiently self-interested by itself, for now at least.

When asked what the top priorities are for Facebook from TIP, Parikh cited the connectivity insights programme, which aims to give operators additional data to help operators make informed decisions derived, in part, from anonymised Facebook user data. Rural access work is also important as Facebook seeks its next billion users, and Telefónica’s work in Peru was cited as an example of this.

The third priority is Terragraph, which is positioned as an alternative to fixed wireless access delivered over unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, of which there is plenty, with an emphasis on backhauling wifi. This is a key concern of Maguire’s, who noted that average video speeds are declining across the board thanks to the aforementioned imbalance between demand and supply.

Maguire explained that Terragraph started as a project designed to look into the viability of using the 60 GHz spectrum for backhaul. At such a high frequency there are a bunch of propagation challenges, with even oxygen itself contributing to signal degradation. But it turns out that if you get the precise line of sight alignment right and don’t try to transmit any further than 200m, then it can be used in much the same way we’re talking about FWA over mm wave for 5G.

In keeping with Facebook’s general tone on this stuff Maguire played down any direct antagonism between Terragraph and mm wave FWA, insisting they just wanted to offer up alternatives. I was also keen to stress that this technology is specifically intended for high bandwidth wireless backhaul. “It’s not a solves all problems technology,” he said.

So, in summary, Facebook says it’s not looking for any immediate return from its involvement and investment in TIP. Instead it expects to benefit from the telecoms industry innovating as a faster pace than it would have if Facebook hadn’t decided to get involved. Aside from justifiable scepticism about any company being so sanguine about immediate, demonstrable ROI there’s little reason not to take Facebook at face value on this, while also keeping a watchful eye out for mission creep as things progress.

Italian 5G spectrum orgy reaches its climax

The frenzy of bidding for mid frequency 5G spectrum in Italy has come to a climax with operators’ cash reserves apparently spent.

The hot action took place around the 3.7 GHz band, where the relatively small amount of spectrum on offer – 200 MHz – and the presence of a new fourth player – Iliad – ensured supply outstripped demand. When we last checked in the bidding had already become frenzied, but they still managed to keep it up for another nine days.

As you can see from the final table published by Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development below, the final amount of cash trousered by the Italian government was €6.5 billion, around three times more than was expected at the start of the process. In hindsight that seems pretty naïve, especially when it came to demand for 3.7 GHz spectrum, but then again Italian operators have paid way more than any other European country for this decidedly limited spectrum.

We could go through all the European 5G auctions ourselves in order to calculate the average price per MHz paid for mid frequency spectrum, but why bother when Iain Morris from Light Reading has already done so and we can just rip off his work?

In Finland’s recent auction 390 MHz of mid frequency spectrum was offered up to three operators. At least in part due to there being so much more spectrum on offer the Finnish operators only shelled out the equivalent of four cents per MHz, according to Morris. The traditionally exuberant UK operators dropped 15 cents per MHz in their equivalent auction but the Italians dwarfed that in dropping 42 cents per MHz.

Telecom Italia seemed happy with the outcome in a press release. “By securing all three band frequencies put on auction, TIM strengthens its network leadership in Italy,” said CEO Amos Genish. “The new frequencies acquired represent a core asset for the Group’s future development and, at the same time, for the ongoing digitization of Italy.” The release also said the 26 GHz block was 200 MHz wide, which was presumably the case for everyone.

Italy 5G auction final

Italy trousers €2 billion in pre-5G 700 MHz auction

A spectrum action in Italy covering a bunch of bands has concluded its first phase with prices roughly in line with expectations.

Bidding is underway on spectrum in the 700 MHz, 3.7 GHz and 26 GHz bands, but only the former has concluded. The starting price was €338 million per 2×5 MHz block of 700 MHz spectrum and TIM, Vodafone and Iliad all got 2×10 paired. Iliad apparently didn’t need to bid but the other two don’t seem to have craven the price up much as you can see from the table below.

Wind didn’t get any 700 MHz spectrum, but seems to be pretty keen on some 3.7 GHz action, having bid €338.5 mil for an apparently pre-specified 80 MHz block of it. TIM is leading the chase for the only other 80 MHz chunk, with Iliad apparently content with 20 GHz and Wind the front runner for the other 20 MHz. A contiguous 100 MHz block of 3.7 GHz would come in handy but it seems likely that Wind is bidding against Vodafone for that bit.

TIM issued an announcement gloating about the fact that it now has spectrum in every sub-1 GHz band available. “This important result increases the frequencies available to TIM which are essential for the 5G services,” said the TIM statement. “The new spectrum will be added to the 20+20 MHz that TIM has in the low frequency 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands, which already ensure the supply of UBB services to more than 98% of the population.”

It seems sensible to have a great big auction of a bunch of different spectrum, given the imminence of 5G in the wild. Iliad has been guaranteed a nice lot of 700 MHz, which will help a lot with coverage, but it might want to have another bid for that bigger block of 3.7 GHz if it want to be a significant 5G player. You can read further analysis on this at Light Reading here.

Italy 700 MHz auction table

Ofcom wants 57-71 GHz band to be free for fixed wireless

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has reserved a bunch of unlicensed high frequency spectrum to be used for fixed wireless links.

Following the usual exhaustive consultation process the 57-66 GHz band has been cleared of interlopers so that the telecoms industry can use it for things like wireless backhaul, video transmission and fixed wireless access. At the same time it’s also in the process of freeing up the 66-71 GHz band and has launched a new consultation designed, it seems, to harmonise those two bands into one fat pipe of unlicensed fixed wireless goodness.

Here’s the Ofcom statement heralding the new consultation:

a) For short range wideband data transmission:

  • extend the current licence exemption and technical conditions (from 57 – 66 GHz) up to 71 GHz; and
  • introduce new technical conditions to allow licence exempt use of lower power equipment operating in a fixed outdoor installation in the 57 – 71 GHz band.

b) For fixed wireless systems:

  • extend the current licence exemption (from 57.1 GHz – 63.9 GHz) to 70.875 GHz, and by doing so, change the current authorisation approach for fixed wireless systems operating in the 64 – 66 GHz band from light licence to licence exempt; and
  • extend the current technical conditions (from 57.1 – 63.9 GHz) up to 70.875 GHz.

The deadline for this latest consultation is 6 August 2018. Presumably this is the opportunity for anyone currently using that spectrum for non-telecoms stuff to state their case, but this has the feeling of a done deal. While it won’t be used for actual 5G radio, having 14 GHz of clear spectrum for fixed wireless should contribute to the overall 5G effort, so this is welcome news.

Qualcomm gets involved with Facebook’s Terragraph FWA project

Facebook reckons fixed wireless over 60 GHz is the answer to a number of urban connectivity challenges and Qualcomm seems to agree.

Terragraph is a Facebook initiative that promotes the use of 60 GHz spectrum over a multi-hop multi-point wireless distribution network, using commercial WiGig gear. Facebook has been banging on about it for a couple of years now, but maybe Qualcomm’s involvement will help it gather some momentum, so long as lobby groups don’t break the company up first.

Qualcomm is throwing its family of 802.11ay (the follow-up to 802.11ad, for some reason, that adds 4×4 MIMO, or so the internet tells us) chipsets into the mix. The companies expect to begin trials of the integrated solution mid-2019.

“We’re excited to work with Qualcomm Technologies to advance the adoption of pre-802.11ay and 802.11ad 60GHz technologies and build a robust ecosystem of interoperable solutions based on Terragraph,” said Yael Maguire, VP of connectivity at Facebook. “With Terragraph, our goal is to enable people living in urban areas to access high-quality connectivity that can help create new opportunities and strengthen communities.”

“Our collaboration with Facebook will bring advanced 11ad and pre-11ay technologies to market increasing broadband penetration and enabling operators to reduce their capex for last mile access,” said Irvind Ghai, VP of product management at Qualcomm Atheros. “Terragraph cloud controller and TDMA architecture coupled with Qualcomm Technologies solution’s 10 Gbps link rate, low power consumption and early interference mitigation techniques will help make gigabit connectivity a reality.”

FWA is expected to be one of the first commercial use-cases of 5G and 60 GHz is eventually expected to be part of the spectrum mix. Terragraph seems to be currently happening in parallel to the main 5G effort but if it takes off, surely it will eventually be absorbed.

Europe gets closer to 5G spectrum harmonization

The Electronic Communications Committee has approved a set of recommendations to harmonize the 3.4-3.8 GHz and 26 GHz bands for 5G.

As is generally the way with European bureaucracies, the ECC is just one component of a broader organizational Russian doll. It appears to be a subset of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) and it is the latter’s proposals that the ECC is happy to have rubber-stamped and handed on to the next link in the chain for further rubber-stamping.

Harmonization, by definition, is a laborious process, requiring the choreographed approval of a bunch of different stakeholders and administrators. The danger of requiring such broad consensus before doing anything is that it can take ages to get anything done and that glacial progress can become so culturally engrained that it becomes very difficult to speed things up when needed.

The hope is that this won’t be the case with 5G, on which Europe is already behind the US and the Far East, and that some bits of the European super-tanker will find a way of moving faster than the rest. Maybe the ECC/CEPT is just such a group, but that remains to be seen, and everything presumably needs sign-off from the European Commission eventually anyway.

“ECC is pleased to support the industry providing the 5G leadership to deliver an accelerated roll-out of 5G to consumers in Europe,” said Eric Fournier, Chairman of the ECC. “ECC is committed to finally adopting the 5G spectrum regulation for the frequency bands 3400-3800 MHz and 26 GHz at its next meeting in July 2018.”

A browse through some of the supporting material offers a glimpse of the Byzantine complexity of getting things done on a pan-European level. Below we’ve copied the latest CEPT roadmap for 5G, for you to enjoy at your leisure.

List of actions (Approved 18 November 2016, Revised 17 November 2017) Related ECC activity (Updated  2 March 2018)
  1. Harmonisation
A.1 Review as a matter of urgency the suitability of 3.4-3.8 GHz ECC decision for 5G Ongoing work within ECC/PT1 (WI PT1_SWG_C_20): revision of ECC/DEC/(11)06 under development for Public Consultation in June 2018.

Related work in response to EC Mandate on 5G: Draft CEPT Report 67 approved by ECC#47 for public consultation.

A.2 Provide guidance to administrations for defragmenting the 3.4-3.8 GHz band, in which there are existing licences in many CEPT countries and for developing plans and intended timescale for the future utilization of this band. Draft ECC Reports under development:

  • WI PT1_02 on defragmentation of the frequency band 3400-3800 MHz;
  • WI PT1_17 on options for synchronization between MFCN
A.3.1 Develop an harmonisation decision setting the conditions for the introduction of 5G in the 26 GHz band, taking into account, as appropriate, the compatibility and protection with all existing services in the same and adjacent frequency bands, in particular the protection of current and future EESS/SRS earth stations should be addressed at the European level. Ongoing work within ECC/PT1 (WI PT1_01): Draft ECC Decision (18)FF approved by ECC#47 for public consultation.

Complementary work to facilitate introduction of 5G while ensuring the use of EESS/SRS (WI PT1_15) and FSS earth stations (WI PT1_16).

Related work in response to EC Mandate on 5G: Draft CEPT Report 68 approved by ECC#47 for public consultation.

A.3.2 Develop a tool box to help the national decision process supporting introduction of 5G in 26 GHz with FS in operation providing mechanisms which allow for continued FS operation, where necessary.

 

To be considered and developed by ECC PT1 to support to introduction 5G in 26 GHz according to harmonised technical conditions (ECC Decision 26 GHz)
A.4 Review ECC decisions in MFCN bands to ensure they are suitable for 5G
  • 3.4-3.8 GHz: See A.1.
  • 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 1.5 GHz ECC Decisions are already suitable for 5G (technology neutral and no AAS assumed in these frequency bands).
  • 2.1 GHz: WI PT1_12 to review ECC Decision (06)01.
  • 2.6 GHz: WI PT1_13 to review ECC Decision (05)05.
  • 1800 (and 900 MHz): WI PT1_14 to review ECC Decision (06)13
  • Further considerations expected from ECC/PT1 for2.3GHz.
A.5 Consider the impact of future “flexible duplex” on the management of existing FDD bands ECC/PT1 to consider this issue which is not expected to arise in the short term.
  1. WRC-19 (IMT>24 GHz)
B.1 Signal clearly that CEPT supports an IMT Identification in the 24.25 – 27.5 GHz band and intends to harmonise this band in Europe for 5G before WRC-19 through the adoption of an harmonisation decision and to promote it for worldwide harmonisation
  • CPG and PT1 activities on WRC-19 AI1.13
  • Reflected in draft CEPT Brief on AI 1.13
  • Articles in the ECC newsletters (see here.)
B.2 Signal clearly that, in addition to the 26 GHz band (see B.1), CEPT considers that the bands 40.5-43.5 GHz and 66-71 GHz have good potential for future harmonisation in Europe. The process for developing harmonisation decisions for the additional bands may be launched immediately after WRC-19.
  • CPG and PT1 activities on WRC-19 AI1.13.
  • Reflected in draft CEPT Brief on AI 1.13.

Note the band overlap with AI 1.6 (NGSO FSS) and 1.14 (HAPS)).

  • The CEPT priorities for the studies may be updated depending on the CEPT positions established by CPG on each frequency bands listed in Resolution 238 (WRC-15).
B.3 Signal clearly that Europe has harmonised the 27.5-29.5 GHz band for broadband satellite and is supportive of the worldwide use of this band for ESIM. This band is therefore not available for 5G.
  • CPG activities
  • Reflected in draft CEPT Brief on AI 1.5 and on 1.13
  • Articles in the ECC newsletters (see here and also here in relation to ESIM.)
B.4 Engage in discussions with other regional organisations to facilitate consensus at WRC-19 CPG activities
B.5 Encourage mobile industry to express consolidated views on their global spectrum needs
B.6 Contribute to ITU-R to consider 5G characteristics  so as to enable sharing studies to be carried out in time for WRC-19
  1. Verticals
C.1 Monitor common use cases for functional requirement of verticals (e.g. PPDR, industrial automation, automotive, utilities, rails, …) which would require spectrum harmonisation measures To be taken into account by WGFM through monitoring of relevant standardisation activities (e.g. ETSI, 3GPP).
C.2 Consider how 5G standardisation will accommodate the verticals specific requirements To be taken into account by ECC/PT1 and WGFM.
C.3 Investigate the possibility for verticals to share common platforms (e.g., a shared private network or hosted on a mobile operator network) To be considered by WGFM in its existing activities relating to verticals, e.g. for rail (FM 56).

Preliminary discussions in ECC/PT1 relating connectivity by means of MFCN in the band 3.4-3.8 GHz (e.g. for connected cars), in response to the 5G Mandate.

 

C.4 Investigate the impact of the use of licensed-exempt regime for critical applications of verticals (e.g. automotive), WG FM to investigate the matter.
C.5 Consider the need for spectrum redundancy for mission critical application (e.g. automotive below 6 GHz) WGFM to consider responding to potential SRDoc when developed by ETSI.
C.6 Review spectrum regulations applicable to verticals to assess whether these are “5G compatible” To be considered by ECC/PT1 and WGFM, taking into account the list of harmonisation decisions (and recommendations) for review .
  1. Other spectrum challenges
D.1 Take into consideration what satellite solutions can bring for 5G Ongoing activities in FM44 (work item FM44_32): draft ECC Report 280 on satellite solutions for 5G approved by ECC#47 for public consultation.
D.2 Investigate new sharing opportunities and challenges that new technologies (e.g. MIMO) can bring. ECC/PT1 to report on this matter, taking into account its work on 24.25-27.5 GHz and 3.4-3.8 GHz
D.3 Carry out activities on FS channelling in 92-105 GHz band and 130-175 GHz band Related WIs SE19_37 and SE19_38 on guidelines on deployment of FS. Draft ECC Recommendation (18)01 on 130-175 GHz approved by WGSE for public consultation in February 2018.
D.4 Review the conditions applicable to the band 57-66 GHz in order to ensure less restrictive, flexible and streamlined regulations for backhauling as well as for SRDs (WiGig), also taking into account ITS in this frequency range. Related WIs SRD-MG_44 and SE19_39 on the evaluation of proposals for a relaxed regulation for wideband data transmission systems in all or parts of 57-66 GHz.
D.5 Investigate the impact of the use of spectrum for 5G in higher frequency bands (>24 GHz) in relation with  general authorization regime, To be considered by ECC/PT1 in its studies for 26 GHz harmonisation and for future activities as appropriate.

 

Huawei claims first North American live FWA trial with Telus

Barred from the US, Chinese networking giant Huawei pointedly went north of the border to show everyone how it thinks fixed wireless access should be done.

Huawei is trying to coin the term ‘Wireless to the Home’ to describe its FWA, although its chosen abbreviation of WTTx seems deliberately designed to keep its options open. Either way FWA is generally expected to be one of the first commercial manifestations of 5G and Huawei isn’t about to let Ericsson and Nokia have things all their own way just because they’re allowed into the US and it isn’t.

This was ‘an end-to-end user trial for WTTx 5G service using a specially-designed 5G CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) unit,’ according to the release. It was conducted in partnership with Telus in Vancouver, specifically in a part of Vancouver that has been designated a ‘5G living lab’, which seems to consist of Telus employees.

“This trial represents continued progress toward the launch of 5G, as we start to replicate both the in-home experience and network footprint we will see when 5G becomes commercially available in the near future,” said Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO at Telus. “Wireless 5G services will generate tremendous benefits for consumers, operators, governments and more through the use of advanced IoT devices, big data applications, smart city systems and other technologies of the future.”

“Millimetre Wave technology will be an important tool in ensuring widespread deployment of 5G technology in Canada,” said Dr. Wen Tong, Huawei Fellow, and CTO of Huawei Wireless. “Huawei’s 5G solutions and terminals will enable 5G coverage over a neighbourhood or small community cost effectively, while providing more convenient and high-speed home broadband Internet access services. This friendly user trial will drive the global 3GPP unified 5G standard and build a solid foundation for the 5G early commercialization.”

This effort apparently builds on some trials the two companies did in the middle of last year. It used the 28 GHz spectrum band, and a massive 800 MHz of it, as well as groovy new technologies such as Massive MIMO, F-OFDM, and Polar Code. Huawei is clearly unhappy at its treatment by the US and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it up its investment in Canada to make a point.

Verizon CEO: fixed line is so last year, we’re all about mobile now

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said he’s no longer interested in big cable M&A.

As recently as the beginning of this year there was talk of a merger between Verizon and cable giant Charter but that came to nought. Verizon is all about 5G now, according to McAdam, who cited the Straight Path acquisition (not to mention taking on former Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg) as evidence of its seriousness in that respect.

The enhanced mobile broadband that comes with 5G will, of course, require some pretty hefty backhaul. But McAdam seems to think that you can’t beat laying your own fibre cable, as opposed to acquiring pre-built networks, when it comes to getting that sort of thing just right, and flagged up Verizon’s commitment to blow a ton of dough on fibre with Corning to substantiate that point.

“I don’t think there is any debate any more that more and more things are going mobile and less and less things are going fixed line,” said McAdam (as transcribed by Seeking Alpha). “And so we’re positioning the company to what I call skate where the puck is going, to be that digital media company that provides mobility services and high bandwidth speeds to customers, no matter where they are.”

On the topic of 5G McAdam had some interesting things to say regarding the ongoing trials we’re constantly hearing about, specifically on the matter of millimetre wave propagation. “We have seen that the foliage doesn’t impact as much as we thought, we can penetrate more building structures than we thought, we can go higher in buildings than we thought,” he said. “We assume six floors, we’re seeing over 20 floors of elevation in the signal. So we’re encouraged by it.”

On the M&A side McAdam also thinks there’s more value in investing in 5G than in cable. I think right now a lot of the fiber companies; their values are a little fluffy compared to what you can build it for yourself and so that’s the path that we’re on,” he said. “…if you look at the amount of capital that’s moving into mobile; if you look at how every internet company is trying to get deeper ties to mobile, that is going to be the center going forward.”